Friday, February 26, 2010

I am totally middle-aged

Oh, I am an oldster, as my children will helpfully tell you, sometimes even before you ask them. I knew it for sure this morning when I devised a tacky little wastebasket system for the van, consisting of a plastic grocery bag trapped by one handle in what used to be the ashtray, but is now a change drawer. I was so very happy and immediately put a straw wrapper and a used tissue in it and REVELED in my sense of accomplishment and tidyness.

I'm kind of worried about myself.

PRODUCT REVIEW: More on the Kongs (and Boodas!)





I went to Petsmart today to see if I could find the manufacturer of those two football-shaped treat toys and the closest guess I can hazard is that they're from a company called AspenPet and these two toys are from a line called Booda. I may have that completely wrong, but that's as close as I can get. These particular toys aren't being made anymore, but Booda has a bunch of other types of treat-dispensing toys available, so between the two companies, you should be able to find a variety of styles for your dog to enjoy. But let this be a lessonto whoever actually did manufacture those toys: put your company name on it. Kong did, and they're getting full credit.

In the bottom picture, I stuffed the Boodas with the three items you see there; the purple Booda seems to be the easiest to see. There's a whitish paste in the purple Booda and that is from the spray can of Kong Stuff'n in the liver variety. The football's holes are stuffed with the two different treats -- the small IAMS puppy biscuits and the Kong Stuff'n Snacks, flavored with peanut butter. I ONLY buy these things on sale, but if you check your favorite pet retailer's website, you'll find that there are quite often price reductions on these items.

I posted the other two pictures to give you an idea of how big the toys are relative to the actual dogs. Zuzu's purple football (formerly Wimzie's) is just the right size for a puppy. The rubber's density gives her a lot of chewing energy to work out, which is good. And then there's Hershey -- see how intent his sweet face looks as he tries to figure out how to get at the goodies? -- is much bigger, meant for medium-sized dogs. Zuzu weighs about eight pounds and Hershey weighs around forty-five. I love the way they hold them with their paws.

These toys seem to do the same thing for dogs that teething rings/pacifiers do for babies: they play to the dogs' instinct to chew, and better these toys than the strap of your Dooney handbag, you know? When that need for chewing is being met, the dogs seem to release tension much better and be less apt to bark frantically every time they see a car sitting at the stop light on our corner. Plus, you can tell that they're fascinated by these things: their concentration is totally focused on How to Get the Treats Out. I think someone could walk in the house, tie us up and steal the wedding silver and the dogs would be all, "Hey. While you're carrying that out, would you mind giving me another squirt of liver paste?"



Thursday, February 25, 2010

PRODUCT REVIEW: Kong dog toys

I can't remember how long ago we discovered Kong dog toys in the grocer's pet aisle or at Petsmart or wherever, but they are possibly the best dog toys I've ever come across. In that bowl, the red rubber toys that look like bee skeps are the original Kongs; the big red football-shaped toy and the small purple football-shaped one are not original Kongs. I foresee a visit to Petsmart tomorrow to track down that manufacturer, as a Google search has proved to be unsatisfactory -- I know! I was surprised, too! I guess I don't know what terms to search for! -- and it will drive me mad until I find out.

The whole purpose of these toys is to keep your dog happily busy, and boy, do they ever. Those two Kong toys? See how they're hollow? Well, what you do is stuff that toy with either a meal or just a treat of some sort. You can close up the hole with a little peanut butter, or you can put the Kong in the freezer for about twenty minutes or so. When you give it to the dog, he/she will be happily engaged for a good while in figuring out how to get the treats out of the toy and into the tummy.

When you first give your dog a Kong, you can pack it very loosely until they figure out what they're supposed to be doing with it. As they become more adept at "unpacking," you can put the food in there even tighter so that it's a little more challenging. Hershey is pretty darn clever at getting all the food out, but Wimzie -- that girl was a WHIZ. Zuzu is still learning, but she's a very smart little thing, so it won't be too long before she can receive a tightly-packed Kong and spend many a happy half hour puzzling out how to make it work.

The challenge of the un-packing is one of the joys of the Kong. First of all, the Kongs can roll around on the floor, so the dog has to figure out how to immobilize it. Hershey generally puts one foot on his, but Zuzu cornered hers up against the base of the china cabinet today. Second of all, the holes in the bottom of the Kongs are big enough to stuff food into, but not really big enough to get a nose into. Third, if you buy a Kong properly sized for your dog (Zuzu and Wimzie used the smallest adult version and Hershey's is the middle-sized version), you'll have just the right size to provide them with absorbing entertainment and just enough food so that to toy is stuffed, but not the dog.

Here are some of the things we stuff Hershey and Zuzu's Kong toys with:

~~dry dog food (they eat the small-bite type)

~~puppy-sized treats

~~high-value treats like Snaussages or Beggin' Strips (only purchased when on sale and doled out with a stingy hand)

~~bits of chipped beef, chicken or turkey, which are also high value

~~peanut butter (in small amounts, because you want the peanut butter in the dog, not on the carpet)

~~bits of shredded cheese

~~little pieces of cantaloupe (Hershey's passionate fondness)

~~yogurt to mix different ingredients together (see peanut butter, above)



Kong also retails all kinds of toy-stuffing yummies at grocery and pet stores nationwide.

The football-shaped toys aren't quite the same. You can't stuff them with food items, but you can stuff them with treats. They aren't quite as involved as the Kongs, if you see what I mean. Hershey's big red football will hold about four puppy-sized treats; there's a small half-circle above the bigger opening that you can see in the picture above, and that half-circle is the challenging hole and holds one treat. The bigger opening holds two or three treats, depending on how hard you jam them in there. Obviously, the more stuffed the treat-holes are, the harder the dog will have to work to get them out.

We love both of these styles of toy because, first and foremost, they make the Hershey and Zuzu very happy. They bounce around in delighted anticipation when they see me getting out the bee skeps or the footballs. Secondly, these toys are marvelous for getting yourself a little peace and quiet. Hershey and Zuzu spend a lot of time playing with each other, tugging on their rope, getting underfoot, barking at the mail carrier and when I have just HAD IT, I put together the big Kongs (if I want to keep them busy for around an hour) or the football toys (if I just want them happily occupied for half an hour) and let them enjoy. Everybody's pleased.

Both styles of toy are dishwasher safe and last and last and last. I think all four of those toys in the basket are about four or five years old. They also have the added benefit of calming down an overly-stimulated dog (nice for when you have company and your dog just can't decide which guest to love-bomb next) and helping keep his/her teeth clean.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Triumph!!!!

Yesterday, Aisling came up to me and gave me a sour look.

"You've ruined me," she said flatly. "Completely ruined me."

I was suffering yesterday with what I'll term a "stomach complaint" (I'll spare you the details), so I was feeling a little ruined myself. "What are you talking about?" I asked plaintively. "Can you get me a cup of ginger tea? And maybe one saltine cracker?"

"I mean it. You have ruined me. Every time I see a road sign or some internet posting or whatever that uses there, they're or their incorrectly, it just goes all over my nerves like vomit on a Ferris wheel."

"Nice image," I said approvingly. "Very descriptive and imaginative. Now, tell me....what about to, too and two?"

"Ruined."

"Were and we're?"

"Crushed."

"Its and it's?"

"Devastated."

"You're and your?"

"Utterly demolished. I can no longer tolerate usage errors and want to beat people with a large and heavy grammar book when I read them."

Joy suffused my entire being and my stomach complaint quieted down as I clasped my hands beneath my chin and closed my eyes in delight. "My work here is done. Finished! I have climbed the mountain, braved the elements, struggled over stony paths and come to this place to claim my victory."

She looked at me, one eyebrow raised. "We're out of saltines."

"Okay. Just a cup of tea, then," I said, crestfallen.

Out of the woods and right back in again

Like many people around the world, I was sitting on the edge of my seat on the couch, holding a fortifying mug of coffee, waiting for Tiger Woods to make his big, fat mea culpa to us all and I got largely what I expected, which was a scripty, wooden bit of face-time before the camera in which he at least had the decency not to wear one of those jackets he got at Augusta. He was dressed in conservative blue-on-blue (a color that presumably fits his mood), kind of like a mid-day news anchor.

It's hard to criticize his performance because he is, after all, known for his skills as a golfer and not as an actor. Although maybe he's not such a bad actor after all, considering that his wife, Elin, apparently had no clue that this was going on when the rest of the sporting world -- everyone from Tiger's colleagues on the links to the NASCAR circuit to those guys who do that competitive bass fishing show that airs at about three in the morning on ESPN -- did? I suppose she could be cut some slack since she's been actively involved in bearing his children for the past few years.

Anyway, the only moment of passion he showed during the whole thing was when he drew himself up to his full height and excoriated the news media for "telling lies" (hahaha, that was a bit of delicious irony, to be sure) about Elin coming across his cheating head with that nine iron. She did not, he said firmly. And she didn't beat up on the Escalade, either.
Which, well....I'm kind of sorry to hear that, you know? Tiger called it "domestic violence" and said there had never been any of that in their home, but as I reflected on his words, I couldn't help but call to mind that old Texas murder defense law that went like this: He needed killin'. As far as an assault charge pressed against Elin Woods by her loving husband goes, I'd say that a good defense for her would have been -- if she'd done it, which she didn't, just ask Tiger -- that if any man ever needed to be bonked on the head with a golf club, it was Tiger.

Maybe it's just his masculine pride that doesn't want to admit that he got taken down by a slip of a little blonde thing, a former swimsuit model who doesn't look like she could slay a a lettuce leaf wrapped around a slice of turkey breast, let alone come over all bloodthirsty like she did.

As for the broken window in the Escalade? Tiger. C'mon. Do you really expect all of us to believe that Elin broke out the back window of that vehicle with the golf club because she was trying to save you after you smooshed a sapling and crunched into a fire hydrant? Really? Because I think the mental picture of her chasing you down the driveway brandishing that nine iron like a valkyrie is just too burned into the public imagination for your heated, yet somehow feeble, protests to make any difference now.
Just when Tiger probably thought he could climb out of that sand trap and dust himself off, a new embarrassment grabbed him by the ankle and dragged him back in: a former mistress, one Veronica Siwik-Daniels, known professionally as "Joslyn James" in her career as a porn star, was at a news conference with her attorney, none other than Gloria Allred, demanding
an apology from Tiger Woods, who broke her heart by telling her he loved her. She says she "didn't deserve" all that she's been through in the past two months because of him.

At this news conference, which took place just minutes after Tiger wrapped up his bright, shiny apology and laid it at our feet, Gloria said, "Why no apology? Veronica had a three-year romantic relationship with Tiger Woods ... He led her to believe that she was the only woman in his life -- other than his wife."

Did she really manage to say this with a straight face? I picture the assembled members of the media all taking this in and shooting sidelong glances at one another, trying to stifle their mirth. Did she really just say that? Really? "He led her to believe that she was the only woman in his life -- other than his wife?" and these two women....They think?....No, they can't really think that, can they?

But they do!

"I really feel that I deserve to look at him in person -- face to face, at his eyes," said Siwik-Daniels.

You mean, kind of like Elin did when he was promising to be a faithful husband to her on their wedding day?

I think Veronica may have missed that lesson in life where an older woman looks at her and says, "Honey, if he'll cheat for you, he'll cheat on you."

Other than that bit of incredulity, the whole thing just makes me sad. Imagine that girl honestly believing that he loved her. This man, world-famous, with a wife and two children, pregnant with those children at the time their affair was going on, and she believed he loved her. She says she still loves him. I mean, at least Elin had the moxie to grab up that nine iron and break the back window out of that SUV -- oh, wait, she didn't, heh heh -- but for this girl, who quit her career as a porn star because Woods "couldn't stand the idea of her being with other men," according to a quote from Allred from the article, my gosh.

While it's just appalling that she could be so blatant and shameless about having an affair with a married man while his wife was pregnant twice, I find that I can't help but feel sorry for her because of her ridiculous gullibility. Don't get me wrong -- I feel much sorrier for Elin Woods, and for different reasons. But this Veronica chippie, she's just pitiful. And in need of many lessons about the World of Men that she hasn't picked up from, well, you know.

So! Tiger! You are totally off our Christmas card list, and don't be expecting an acknowledgment of your birthday this year, either. I hope you make good on your promise to work out your issues of greed and entitlement and become an even better husband and father than you are a golfer. Because if you aren't?

Elin may have stashed nine irons all around the house to deal with any lapses.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Menu Plan Monday


Here we are, right straight back on Monday again, complete with the snow and the way-below-freezing temperatures forecasted for later in the week and I think I'm going to just quit drinking coffee and start either chewing the beans or maybe injecting it straight into my veins. I wish I were a perky, cheery blogger who could turn my frown upside down and make us all a BIG BATCH OF LEMONADE out of all the lemons life has so generously been handing out lately, but I'm not your girl if you're in search of a half-full glass. It'll be half-empty, but I will sweeten it for you. Do you want real cane sugar or Splenda?

Which is why, you know, that Menu Plan Monday works so well for me. Because without this? We'd probably be eating saltine crackers topped with dirty snow for dinner every night this week. So thanks to Laura at I'm an Organizing Junkie, my family will not have to pick bits of wet leaf out of their teeth this week, even though I keep trying to tell them that it's important to have a fiber-rich diet.

Menu Plan for the week of February 2, 2010

Monday - Mom's Best Easy Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn, mini croissant rolls

Tuesday - Pulled pork sandwiches (prepared in the slow-cooker), oven-roasted potatoes, peas

Wednesday - Amish Breakfast Casserole, cinnamon toast

Thursday - Chipped beef gravy, homemade biscuits, peas

Friday - Crispy fish filets, oven-baked potato puffs, salad

This past Saturday, we ate Ragù Americana with whole-wheat pasta and garlic toast for dinner, and on Sunday, I made oven- roasted chicken breast with dressing and green beans.

See this bench again?

Yeah. Do you see a package on it?
No?
Me neither. And I asked my husband if he could see one, and he said all he could see is that the bench needs to be re-painted and I said indignantly that it had taken a long time to get that artfully worn patina on that bench and that there would be no paint, none! Added to it.
And then I asked Meelyn and Aisling if they could see a package on it, and Meelyn said that all she could see was that the bench needed to be painted and I asked her if she'd been talking to her dad and she said yes and that he'd very generously given her five dollars and she didn't know why.
Aisling said the only thing she'd seen on the front porch bench recently was her algebra book, which was slightly wet from the snow and we were all very very lucky because even though the pages were pretty wrinkled, none of the ink had run, at least in the back half of the book where she is currently working.
So that person at the post office I spoke to on Friday? He didn't have our package re-delivered and it is lost.
If you were the person who sent us the package, I want to publicly thank you for your kindness and generosity and I'm sure whatever was in it -- which I'm sure was lovely and thoughtful but I'll ever know BECAUSE OF THE POST OFFICE -- would have been greatly appreciated by me and my family.
$%#*& post office!!!!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I'll give you ONE GUESS...


...as to what it's doing outside right now. Just one. Shouldn't be too difficult. Have you got it yet?

Okay. If you guessed "snowing," you are right!


Now, c'mere so's I can pull your hair.

Friday, February 19, 2010

See this bench?

This is the bench that sits on my front porch.

It was supposed to have a package re-delivered and placed upon its seat yesterday.

The package was not re-delivered yesterday. It was not delivered today.

When Aisling stepped out to get the mail, she asked our mail carrier about the package. The mail-carrier, a person who once fractiously accused our next-door neighbor of placing a piece of outdoor furniture on purpose so that she, the mail carrier, could trip over it and fall down and sue everyone on our street for our thoughtlessness, vaguely said, "I may have delivered that. I don't know. I can't recall. I think the post office lost it."

Lost it??!! Lost our package? As in, we're not ever going to get it and know who sent it and what was in it?

The package was delivered for the first time last Friday, one week ago. We weren't at home to receive it, so the mail carrier left us one of those little pink slips that asks you if you want to have the item re-delivered ("Fill out lines 1, 2, 3 and 4 and sign your name. Return the slip to your mailbox for your mail carrier to pick up") or if you want to go to the post office yourself and pick it up ("Go to the post office and pick it up.")

I wanted the item re-delivered because the post office is in a part of town where people sometimes get shot or stabbed or mauled by pit bulls, so I filled out the slip, requesting that the re-delivered package be left on the bench on my front porch. Aisling didn't put the slip in the mailbox as I asked her to do, so we had to wait until Tuesday to leave it for the mail carrier. Since Sunday was Sunday and Monday was President's Day and all that.

Yesterday, then was the day scheduled for the package to arrive, since the slip told us to allow two business days for re-delivery. And yet, no package, as I said above. No package today.

It was decided that I should call the post office.

Calling any government agency is something that requires you to be in the whole of your health before taking on their formidable phone systems. By the time I dialed the number and then sat there through the chirpy recorded voice saying, "...to find out about buying stamps online, press 4-3-6-5-8 or say 'BUY STAMPS ONLINE'. To inquire about the hours for your local post office, press 4-3-6-5-9 or say 'INQUIRE ABOUT THE HOURS.' To cast your vote in our non-scientific poll, Do you think this phone system is more or less efficient than the Pony Express, press 4-3-6-6-0 or say 'VOTE IN THE NON-SCIEN....'" I required antibiotics, a sedative and, I don't know, maybe some Viagra.

To escape from the hell of the endless menu, I pushed the zero button about six hundred times. A friend once told me that doing so will automatically throw you to some new realm where you might actually be able to speak with a human.

Pushing zero sent me to a customer service representative who was so utterly bored with me and my package, I fully expected to hear the thump of his head hitting the desk as he perished from terminal ennui, but he managed to hold it together long enough to assure me that he would try to find my package and have it re-delivered tomorrow.

We shall see.

Until then, I've nothing to do but fret about what it could be, and moreover, since we haven't ordered anything to be delivered by mail lately, if it is a box of...something?....that someone has sent us, someone who is currently thinking that we are the rudest and most ungracious people on the planet for not acknowledging whatever it was they sent.

Aaaagghhhhh.....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Art and the home schooled student

Meelyn is taking an art theory and appreciation course this semester, one of Alpha-Omega Publication's excellent Lifepacs series for middle and high school students. Today's lesson was a study in color-mixing, and although Mee complained that she felt like her next assignment might be finger-painting (an activity she scorned even as a pre-schooler), when she finished up with her brushes and her tempera paint, she said in an amazed voice, "I actually learned something in that lesson!"

Bingo!

Widder-makers

Those huge icicles are hanging off the second story of our house, right over my kitchen window. If there were a window in the upstairs bathroom on that side of the house, we'd be able to see them there, baring their wicked, frozen teeth at us. My point being, the longest of those things must be over six feet long. Eeek!!!

We don't often hang out in the driveway underneath the kitchen window, so we aren't concerned that one of those things will do us a mischief, but we are a little worried about their weight pulling the gutters right off the house. Not to mention that waterfall formation we've got going on there to the left. Could it pull the siding right off the house?

We fervently hope not.

Right underneath the kitchen window is a nice flower bed we made with those chunky bricks stacked up three high. It is to be planted with hostas and many colors of impatiens this summer, and I think it will be a very beautiful display on the shady side of the house; so lovely, in fact, that I'd like to set up a couple of comfy outdoor chairs and a table back there in the grassy part and sit there and drink some iced tea while reading something pleasant.

That thought is the ONLY thing that got me through this day, the day on which I have just heard from the National Weather Service that we here in central Indiana can shortly be expecting a brand spankin' new winter storm.......

RECIPE: Cheesy Tuna Casserole (and a better-than-that version)



My pictures look a bit better, don't they? I've been forcing myself to stand across the room and using the zoom feature on the camera to get close up and feeling like I ought to be setting up those big things that look like inverted white umbrellas (what are those even for?) and murmuring to my food, "Work with me, babe! The camera loves you and you love the camera. SHOW ME SOME CRUST!!!"

I'm sorry to say that this casserole wasn't as good as I hoped it would be, so I'm going to post the original recipe I used last night, because it wasn't terrible. I mean, we ate it. Grudgingly. And we were really hungry because of Ash Wednesday being a fast day and all, so we were all like, "This sucks" even while we were tossing it down the hatch. But I'm also going to post a second recipe, one which works out what I perceived to be the kinks in this plan.

Actually, I think my biggest problem wasn't with the recipe. The sauce the tuna was in was actually very good. But the pasta I used? It was ALL WRONG. I used whole wheat penne, and I should have used just plain old elbow macaroni, the classic tuna casserole pasta. The penne was too big and led to a mouth-feel that was somehow unpleasant. I'm not sure why.

So! For your discernment, here are two tuna casserole recipes:

EASY TUNA CASSEROLE

Ingredients:
12 ounces pasta (approx. 6 cups), cooked and drained
2 cans albacore tuna, drained
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
½ cup mayonnaise
1 small onion, diced
1 large can French-fried onions
Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, combine cooked pasta, tuna, soup, cheese, peas, mayonnaise and onions and stir. Pour into a 9x13 casserole dish that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle the French-fried onions on top, bake for five more minutes.

Makes 6 servings

*******************************

CHEESY TUNA-MELT CASSEROLE
My favorite sandwich in the whole world is a tuna melt, which is tuna salad with cheese on buttery grilled bread. In this recipe, some buttery elbow macaroni will have to take the place of the bread, but I plan to try this during Lent and see how it works.

I make my tuna salad with mayonnaise, diced celery and onion, some crushed dried dill weed and a tiny squirt of mustard. To make a tuna melt sandwich, I add a slice of cheese, of course. What I'm hoping this recipe will produce is a creamier casserole that isn't overpowered by the tuna, with the french-fried onions approximating the crunch of the grilled bread. Hence...

Ingredients:
4 cups cooked elbow macaroni
1 can albacore tuna, drained
2 cans cream of celery soup
½ cup mayonnaise
1 soup can warm water
1 teaspoon salad mustard
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1½ teaspoons dried dill weed
1 small onion, diced
1 large can french-fried onions
sprinkle of paprika, optional

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the soup, mayonnaise, water and mustard. Add the cheese, peas, dill weed and diced onion, stir. Fold in the macaroni and the tuna.

Pour into a well-buttered 9x13" casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees for half an hour or until bubbly. Top with french-fried onions and bake for five more minutes. Sprinkle with paprika to give it a savory color if desired.

Makes six servings
******************************
Now remember, I haven't ever actually made that second recipe. It's just based on correcting some things I felt went wrong with the first recipe, which we ate for dinner last night. It's also supposed to be a take on my favorite sandwich, an old-fashioned diner tuna melt. Who knows? That second recipe might be as yucky as the first one, but I can't imagine how that could be.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Ah, the beginning of Lent! As a convert, I always enjoy Lent quite a bit -- I have some cradle Catholic friends who give me a look of patient perseverance when I say this, indicating that I may be the special treat they'd personally like to give up.

But I like Lent. It's hard, I admit. But since it is all about Jesus and the hardships He suffered, the temptations He overcame, the voluntary sacrifices He made, it only makes sense to join Him in His sorrows. I mean, we're ALL ABOUT joining Him during the Christmas celebrations, right? The twinkly lights, the gaily-wrapped packages, the tree be-decked with ornaments and the table be-groaned with tempting foods. I've heard plenty of people say that they're sick of the commercialization of Christmas, and I've known folks who have decided to opt out of a Complicated Christmas in favor of a Simplified Christmas, but I've never heard anyone say (other than John Grisham's Luther Krank in Skipping Christmas), "No, thanks. I don't think I'll participate in any of the merriment this year."

But trying to get people to volunteer to make personal sacrifices? To go without, whether the going without means sweets, X-Boxes or the internet, well, that's a whole different deal.

That's where the Church comes in so handy, I guess because misery loves company? No, that's not it. It's more like standing together, being a family in good times and in bad. Like all families, the Catholic Church, counting their members in the billions worldwide, has its regular everyday folks, the crazies, the jerks, the posers and the ones who are so good, they give you hope that the name they pass on will be one that honors everyone. During this time of year in particular, we're all gathered around the same sparsely-laid table, hanging together and waiting for the feast of Easter. It's so much more than what some call a "community" and definitely more than what other Christians see as just a mystical body of believers, tied loosely together by a common belief in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, but divided by so much more.

That's not to say that all Catholics are in agreement. As a family, there are feuding members and members who don't want to have anything to do with one another, and others who are crucially disappointed in how things are being done. There are others who decide to bail altogether and seek their own way. But in spite of all that, there's that excerpt from St. Paul's epistle to Timothy, the young bishop, that can be found in the first letter, third chapter, fifteenth verse:

"But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth."

The church -- the Church -- is the pillar and foundation of truth, the household of God, the home of all Christians with the sacraments as their birthright. At the time of this letter's writing, it was obviously very young, not to mention highly illegal. But it existed and was constantly gaining new members. The truth that the Church holds in sacred deposit is that same truth that Jesus mentioned when He said in John 16:13, "When He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on His own, but speak what He hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming."

That was an important verse to me as a convert, both spiritually and historically. Since God had led me to question what I believed and why I believed it, I wanted to make sure I was going to end up someplace that had ALL the truth, the whole thing, even the parts I didn't necessarily want to have to acknowledge as true (hello, birth control?) I wanted all of it, the exalted, holy and uplifting truth and the ones that made my soul exalt and the hard truths that made me feel as fretful as a four year old, even while I was bending my knee to them in acknowledgment of their validity and importance, despite my petulance in receiving them.

I wanted it all and I got it, along with the tuna casserole I'm serving for dinner on on this, our eighth Ash Wednesday as Catholics.




Tuesday, February 16, 2010

RECIPE: Sweet and Savory Barbecued Country Ribs

My mom, a major sweetie, came by the other day and left two packages of beautiful pork country ribs for us. Even frozen, they looked delicious, and even though this is not the time of the year to pair them with cole slaw and corn on the cob, it sure is the right time of year to pair them with some oven-baked potato wedges and green beans.

I'm always looking for good recipes for barbecue sauce. If I have to buy it at the store, I find that Sweet Baby Ray's original style delivers the flavor we prefer, but I did post this recipe for Pulled Pork Barbecue Sandwiches in June 2008 and it is pretty darned good. So is this one, though, and just enough different that I think it's worth posting a second barbecue recipe. Plus, these ribs are so easy and good, I'd definitely make them again.

Sweet and Savory Barbecued Country Ribs

Ingredients:

3-4 pounds country-style pork ribs (whatever will fit in your slow-cooker)

1 large sweet onion, cut into rings
1 bottle honey barbecue sauce
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup spicy brown mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

Dredge the ribs in a mixture of flour, seasoned salt and plenty of black pepper (I used about a cup of flour, 2 teaspoons of seasoned salt and a half-teaspoon of pepper for our tastes) Brown in a skillet on both sides; transfer to slow-cooker. Place onion on top.

In a microwave-safe mixing bowl, stir together the barbecue sauce, maple syrup, mustard, salt and pepper. Heat until warm, however long your microwave takes to do this. Pour over the meat and the onion in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours or until the meat is tender.

Dredge the ribs

RECIPE: Amish Breakfast Casserole

To be totally fair to myself, this is one of the better food photographs I've taken, so it's kind of sad that Amish Breakfast Casserole, while the taste is somewhere beyond delicious, doesn't exactly lend itself to a nummy-looking picture. Take it from my husband, who is pictured here holding the plate he just finished warming up in the microwave: it is really, really good.
Amish Breakfast Casserole
Ingredients:
1 pound bacon
1 large onion, chopped
6 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups frozen hash browns, thawed (I used southern style)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 shredded Swiss cheese
1 1/2 cups small curd cottage cheese
4 dashes hot pepper sauce
Directions:
Cook the bacon and the onion in a skillet until the bacon is crispy. Drain well on paper towels; set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, add the beaten eggs, hash browns, three cheeses and pepper sauce and stir to combine. Add the bacon and onion; stir again. Pour mixture into a buttered 9x13 baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until set and bubbly. Let it stand for ten minutes before cutting. Serves 4-6.

Still with the snow. Really?


It is an established fact that I can't photograph a plate of food that doesn't look like it ought to be the dogs' dinner instead of a person's, but I think I did a pretty good job on this picture of a fat cardinal perched on a twig of the burning bush outside my dining room window. I was pleased with it, but oh, IF ONLY IT WERE A ROBIN.

Seriously, I look outside these days and just want to go to Mother Nature's house and ding-dong-ditch her with a bag of burning dog poo on her porch. What is the DEAL with this weather? Al Gore has been boring me to sobs for years with this whole global warming thing and all I've got to say is that if this is global warming, I am a runway model. It is still snowing even as I type this; all the schools in the area are either closed or on a two-hour delay.

The skies are pewter gray again this morning, the mercury in the thermometer is shivering, huddled down in the high teens, and this summer? If I complain about how hot it is? Tell me I'm an idiot, okay?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Menu Plan Monday


Lent starts this week and I am really glad because I've been scouring the internet for some new seafood or meatless recipes for Ash Wednesday and for Fridays. I've scored a number of them that sound really delicious and fairly simple to prepare and one of them -- an old-fashioned, family-pleasin' tuna casserole -- is up to bat in just two days.

We've also got a special dessert for Fat Tuesday, as well as a yummy dinner that packs on the protein and carbs to cover us for our fast day on Wednesday.

Check out the menu planning over at Laura's place, I'm an Organizing Junkie. She's the originator of this fabulous idea and she has a really great blog.

Menu Plan for the week of Monday, February 15, 2010

Monday - Oven-fried chicken, big baked potatoes, mixed vegetables

Fat Tuesday - Baked Steak, whipped potatoes, green beans, Peanut Butter Cup Pie (recipe to come later, and although I've never made it before, it looks like a keeper)

Ash Wednesday - Easy Cheesy Tuna Casserole

Thursday - Tamale Pie (this one's a recipe from my internet friend, Beth)

Friday - Crunchy fish filets with homemade tartar sauce, oven-baked potato puffs, green beans

By the way, I grocery shop on Fridays or Saturdays, so I never list the foods we eat on the weekends, because then this whole layout wouldn't look like Menu Plan Monday. It would look more like Menu Plan Saturday, which doesn't roll off the tongue quite as smoothly, does it? And if I listed what we ate on the weekend after Friday's entry, that would be really weird because it would be food we'd eaten almost a week before, you dig?

Anyway, I do cook at home and feed my family on the weekends, for those of you who wrote to me and asked if Saturday and Sunday at our house are like a getaway to the Bastille. On Saturday, we had a new recipe called Amish Breakfast Casserole (a keeper) and barbecued country ribs in the slow-cooker on Sunday (also a keeper).

Wimzie: August 24, 1997 - February 15, 2010


As you can tell from the title of this post, this is just one of the saddest days ever. We had to take Wimzie to the vet to have her put to sleep. We knew it was coming - her health has been deteriorating since last September - but recently she got to the point where we could see her faltering week by week.

The poor old thing got to the point where she didn't like to go for car rides anymore, car rides having previously been her main joy in life. Instead of standing on my lap and peering out the windshield or sticking her head out the window with her ears blowing straight back, she would huddle in my arms with her face hidden in the crook of my arm. She couldn't go on walks in the neighborhood; she had lost a lot of mobility and had episodes where her legs would drag behind her. She wasn't even barking at the mailman anymore.

So my husband, the girls and I started embarking on a series of exceedingly difficult conversations. Like, How do you know when it's time to say goodbye? and Could she possibly be in pain? But yesterday, there was an occurrence that let us know beyond the shadow of a doubt that something was wrong. Really wrong. So I called the vet this morning.

We had hoped to wait until Thursday, which is my husband's day off, but knew now that there was a really good chance that she was suffering. So the girls and I took her in and let me just say this unequivocally: That was one of the HARDEST and WORST things I've ever had to deal with. Which, I don't know, may mean that I have lived a very sheltered and even boring life, although I don't think so. I chalk it up to the fact that I'm an animal person and that Wimzie has been my constant companion for the past twelve and a half years. Those things considered, a strong bond is just a given, particularly since she acknowledged my position as alpha dog, something the rest of my family is often inclined to dispute.

Anyway, for those of you who have never had to euthanize a sick and/or elderly pet, let me just tell you that the whole experience will make you want to fall prostrate to the floor and just, like, STAY THERE. But I'll also tell you that it is a peaceful way for a pet to go, despite the fact that Wimzie summoned up enough of her old testy personality to try to bite the vet's hand off.

I just don't have the heart to describe her passing because I am already typing this through a crazy storm of tears and I'm just about BLIND from the mascara leaking off my eyelashes and into my eyes -- yes, even in times of crisis, I can be counted on to be wearing makeup -- but let me just say this: It wasn't such a bad way to go, you know? After a long lifetime of being treated like a member of the family, to come to the end of that happy life and to leave it peacefully, surrounded by people who loved her, well, who among us wouldn't want that for ourselves, let alone fourteen pounds of fur and grrr, a Jack Russell to win the heart and test the patience of a loving family.

Wimzie, darling girl, biter of plumbers, sworn foe of squirrels, you will never be forgotten.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day -- Top 20 Love Songs

The four of us were sitting around today eating our favorite Sunday brunch oatmeal and discussing l-o-v-e and I decided it would be fun to see what our Top 20 personal favorite love songs are. So here they are, cross-generational, and not in any particular order except for number one, which is my favorite love song and since this is my blog, I got to hog the first place for myself. Which isn't really in the spirit of loving people, come to think of it....

McKinney Family Top Twenty Love Songs

20. A Thousand Miles - Vanessa Carlton

19. Everything - Michael Bublé

18. Far Away - Nickelback

17. No Air - Jordin Sparks (Added under protest and only because Jordin is such a doll, but Chris Brown is a creep who beats up on girls and he shall not be forgiven.)

16. The Way You Look Tonight - Frank Sinatra

15. You and Me - Lifehouse

14. I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) - The Proclaimers

13. Someone to Watch Over Me - Sarah Vaughan (This video is by Ella Fitzgerald)

12. Every Little Thing She Does is Magic - The Police

11. Head Over Feet - Alanis Morissette

10. Can't Help Falling in Love With You - Elvis Presley

9. Can You Feel the Love Tonight - Elton John (from The Lion King)

8. And I Love Her - The Beatles

7. When I Fall in Love - Nat King Cole

8. Our Song - Taylor Swift

7. Chances Are - Johnny Mathis

6. The Way You Make Me Feel - Michael Jackson (Absolutely hate this video, so no posting)

5. Daydream Believer - The Monkees

4. Close to You - The Carpenters

3. Your Song - Elton John

2. Vision of Love - Mariah Carey

1. Miss You - Aerosmith


What's your favorite love song?

RECIPE: Mom's Best Easy Meatloaf


Well, we all know by now that I am definitely not a talented food photographer -- I think I'm standing too close -- but honestly, it's hard to stay away from this meatloaf. (Nice segue, wasn't it?) I found this recipe online, did the usual tinkering that we all do to make it suit our family's particular taste, and served it last Wednesday with mashed sweet potatoes and green beans.

My husband very kindly allowed me to photograph his plate before he dug in.

Meatloaf is a very cost-effective main dish to serve the family because the "filler" in it stretches out the actual meat and allows for a multi-meal allotment that any busy family cook can appreciate. One of my favorite ways to use leftover meatloaf -- other than that way called LUNCH -- is to cut it in chunks and put it in baked spaghetti as meatballs. Er, meatcubes. You know what I mean. It's very good that way.

We enjoyed this a lot and it is a much easier recipe to prepare than the other meatloaf recipe I have posted here at InsomniMom, which is titled Comforting Meatloaf and can be found by clicking this link. True, the Comforting Meatloaf recipe is one that ingeniously hides a number of nutritious vegetables from the prying eyes of your picky children. And also true, it is a variation of Martha Stewart's mother's recipe and I have to say that the late Mrs. Kostyra -- God rest her soul -- really knew her way around a meatloaf.

But this recipe? It is much easier. It doesn't require lugging out the food processor to grate all those veggies, yet it is still really, really good. I don't know -- throw in an eighth of a cup of wheat germ for some extra nutritive value if you want to. But the main point is that this is an easy recipe, one that you can slap together in a matter of minutes when you need to serve the fam a meal that has nothing to do with On-Cor Salisbury Steaks, a frozen entrée that Kayte once scolded me soundly for dishing up chez McKinney.

Mom's Best Easy Meatloaf

Ingredients:

1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground sausage

3/4 cup oatmeal (either old-fashioned or quick)
1/2 cup ketchup
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl; mix lightly but thoroughly. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with non-stick spray and put meatloaf into the dish, shaping into a loaf. Bake in oven for forty minutes. (I recommend not baking the meatloaf in an actual loaf pan because there won't be room for all the juices and they will spill out into your oven, creating a dreadful smoky mess and the smoke detectors will all go off and the dogs will bark and you'll have to gallop around the kitchen waving a magazine in the air to dissipate the smoke

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Because without the sauce, this may be somebody's meatloaf, but it can't be Mom's. Or even Dad's. The sauce makes the meatloaf and probably adds a serving of vegetables, so go ahead and pour it on.

Mom's Best Easy Meatloaf Sauce

1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar

When the timer goes off for the first forty minutes at meatloaf cookage, drain off the fat and then apply the sauce liberally over the top of the meatloaf. Bake another twenty minutes or until the inner temp of the meatloaf reaches 160 degrees.

Allow to stand for about ten minutes before slicing. Makes the best leftovers, like, ever.

Overheard at church on Saturday

During the announcements after Mass:

Father [reading from his notes]: Just as a reminder, Lent is coming up this week [looks up and shoots a glance at entire congregation]. Ash Wednesday will be on Wednesday and you can come to pray the Stations of the Cross on Friday at seven o'clock p.m. right after weekday Mass. We'll also be praying the rosary in the half hour before Mass.

Congregation [thought bubbles appearing the above heads of those who are listening]: Ash Wednesday will be on Wednesday? Isn't it always? Hahahahahahaaaa!!!

Congregation [thought bubbles appearing above heads of those who had tuned out] What's for dinner? What's so funny?

Overheard at my house on Friday


An unspecified teenager, murmuring to herself: "How many states are there? Fifty? No, that doesn't sound right. Fifty-TWO! Fifty-two states. No, wait, that doesn't sound right either. Oh, hang on, I'm thinking of playing cards. There are fifty-two playing cards and fifty states. Okay. I'm good."

Me [dropping head into hands]: Aaarrrrrrrrgghhhhh!!!!!

Unspecified teenager: Do you have a headache?

Me [darkly]: I do now.

And to think that we spent an entire school year with a rather demanding course in social studies/geography on the United States.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

And summer is SO DELIGHTFUL.

I keep sitting here wondering what we all did to tick Mother Nature off so much. Because it is obvious that she is not in a good mood.

Meelyn took this picture of my husband out with the dogs one evening several nights -- and about EIGHT INCHES -- of snow ago. The public school kids haven't had school for two days, and I'm not just talking about the kids in our city: I'm talking about the kids in our county and the four surrounding counties. One school corporation had a mere two hour delay and I bet those kids are even more torqued that Mother Nature.

Right at this particular moment, the snow has stopped. But that's not really saying much because it could start up again at any moment. What's happening most of all is wind. Shrieking, howling gusts of wind that authors Frances Hodgson Burnett and Emily Brontë referred to as "wuthering." Several times today I looked outside and watched the snow going completely horizontal down the street. And it wasn't stopping at the stop light, either.

I've also heard this kind of wind called a "lazy wind" -- one that can't be bothered to go around, so it cuts right through you. That sounds about right.

Whatever kind of wind it is, I've had just about enough, thankyouverymuch. And snow. I am really over the snow. When will SPRING be here?

Absolutely outraged

You might remember a couple of weeks ago, when I wrote that Emma was coming to everyone's local PBS stations, courtesy of Masterpiece Classics? Well, I was extremely stoked about this four-hour miniseries and as soon as I spread the word here on InsomniMom, I pranced out to the living room and set the DVR to record the whole thing.

What I didn't know is that in between my setting the DVR and the view dates for Emma, our local PBS affiliate, WFYI-Indianapolis, CHANGED THEIR PROGRAMMING. So that two-hour first episode? Well, the FIRST hour was some dumb wildlife program about bald eagles, about whom I could not possibly care less. I mean, yeah, pretty birds. Yeah, majestic. God's creation. National symbol. Blablabla. But Emma! EMMA!

If this were the nineteenth century, I would challenge WFYI to a duel. I mean it. With either swords or pistols. Either that or I would totally snub them at the next ball and when they asked me to dance, I'd smile in a frosty manner and turn away to talk to someone else, feigning deafness.

Some things cannot be forgiven and this? This is one of them.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

RECIPE: The best-ever pancakes, compliments of ALDI

I found this pancake recipe on the side of ALDI's Baker's Corner baking mix and it is truly the best recipe for pancakes I've ever used. I'm not saying that I'm an expert on pancakes or anything, except for eating them. Eating them, I could probably win a gold medal. Actually making them? Not so much. I mean, my adult life has consisted of adding water to a cup of pancake mix or whatever, it's not rocket science or anything.


But my family immediately liked this easy recipe. They were so enthusiastic, they wanted pancakes every day for breakfast for about a week, a task I was disinclined to undertake. But I do bust it out on the weekends, or on days like today when the girls are grumpy because every public and private school in all the surrounding counties is closed due to the arrival of an inordinate amount of snow last night. Pancakes sweeten their tempers and remind them how lucky they are to be receiving an education that includes no snow days is thorough and complete.

For your pancakes, visit your local ALDI, if you are fortunate enough to have one, and for an amazingly small amount of money:

Carlini canola oil
Baker's Corner baking mix
Friendly Farms evaporated milk
Spice Club pure vanilla extract
Goldhen large eggs
Aunt Maple's lite pancake syrup (we forgot to take Aunt Maple's picture)

Baker's Corner's Old Fashioned Pancakes

Ingredients:
2 cups Baker's Corner Baking Mix
1 large Goldhen egg
1 1/3 cups Friendly Farms evaporated milk (the conversion for evaporated milk is half milk/half water)
2 tablespoons sugar (this comes from ALDI too, but it is in my canister and not in the original packaging, so I don't know the name of the "brand")
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Heat griddle or electric skillet to 400 degrees. If using a frying pan over top of range, set to medium-high temperature. Pour a small amount of canola oil over whatever cooking surface you're using, turning the skillet or griddle to lightly coat. Cooking surface is ready when a few drops of water dance and disappear when sprinkled on the surface.

Stir all ingredients together until smooth. Pour slightly less than 1/4 cup of batter onto the cooking surface. Cook until bubbles form on the surface (about one minute). Turn and cook until bottom color matches top (about one minute).

Serve with Aunt Maple syrup! Yummm....

Royally literate

Aisling just asked me, "What's the difference between a participial phrase and an adverb clause?"

I sat and thought for a moment. "I have no idea," I finally admitted.

She gave me a bleak look. "I thought you were, like, the QUEEN of grammar."

"No, I replied with dignity. "I am the QUEEN of literature. I am merely the lady-in-waiting of grammar."

Why does this always happen?

I'm washing the sheets today, even though my day for washing the sheets is usually Monday. I have no excuse for my slothfulness of yesterday, but anyhoo, I went out earlier to put them in the washer and the same phenomenon that always happens occurred again:

As soon as I start the washer, I have to pee. Even if I just went, like, ten minutes previously. My bladder acts just like one of Pavlov's little dogs -- I hear water gushing into the washer's tub and *WHAM* -- it is TIME to GO.

I can't tell you the number of times I have hastily exited the laundry room to go to our downstairs bathroom, only to forget that I started the washer. And I'd like to point out that it doesn't take very long to pee: what does this say about my attention span? Or my short-term memory? I'll wander out to the laundry room a little later and see the bundle of sheets or the tangle of clothing still sitting in the basket, the washer completely filled and waiting patiently for my return. Oops. I blame it on the fact that I am a very busy person. Who washes each pillowcase individually. And....measures the powdered detergent grain by grain into the machine? No? Okay.

Does this happen to any of you? Or do I have, as that television commercial for the prostate-shrinking drug Flomax so delicately puts it, "a going problem"? I know I definitely don't have a prostate, so maybe I'm just too suggestible and/or easily influenced by the swishy sound of flowing water.

RECIPE: Delicious Hot Crab Dip

Ugh, I am having so much trouble with pictures lately. I'm not sure who it is: me or the camera. Actually, I'm kind of betting on me, but still....How complicated could a point-and-shoot camera be? Isn't the whole point that you point and then shoot and your pictures turn out lovely no matter how much of an idiot you are?

Okay, that's it. I'm blaming the camera.

At any rate, here's what remains of the Delicious Hot Crab Dip I made for our Super Bowl fête and I can attest that it does indeed live up to its name. I put it together from a recipe at Allrecipes.com and one I found in an old church cookbook, casting out chili sauce and adding a little mayonnaise, doubling up the lemon juice and throwing in four dashes of hot pepper sauce.

Also, the original name of the recipe? Fantastic Hot Crab Dip. I took the liberty of inserting a different adjective. To, you know...make it all my own. You can use whatever adjective you'd like, but I hope it will be a complimentary one.

This recipe is particularly nice because it should be made the day before you plan to serve it, which means when you're expecting company, all you have to do is pull it out of the fridge, let it rest on the counter for a few minutes and then put it in the oven to warm. The overnight fridging allows the flavors to really develop -- and it's worth it -- but if you're pressed for time and need a really simple hors d'oeuvre, it can be made right before serving.

DELICIOUS HOT CRAB DIP

Ingredients:

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, well softened
4 tablespoons butter, well softened
6 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt (or to taste...I used just a bit more)
2 pinches ground black pepper
4 dashes hot pepper sauce

6 green onions, finely chopped
12 ounces fresh crabmeat or "imitation" crab meat (which is actually half crab meat/half whitefish), chopped or flaked into small pieces

Directions:

In a medium mixing bowl, mix cream cheese, butter and mayonnaise until smooth. Blend in the Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, lemon juice, salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce. Add the green onion and crab meat and stir thoroughly.

Spray a small casserole dish with non-stick spray. Scoop the dip into it and pat down; cover with plastic film and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove casserole dish from fridge and take off plastic wrap. Allow dish to sit on counter to warm up a bit before plunking in the oven -- I had a bad experience with this once that just marked me, oh my goodness it was a horrific mess and broke one of my favorite casserole dishes, too -- maybe for about twenty minutes or so. Place dip in oven and warm for about 20-30 minutes. This thick mixture won't get bubbly, but it will get nice and soft.

Remove from oven and serve immediately with celery sticks, crackers, buttery crostini, pretzel twists, bagel chips...whatever sounds good to you.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Step aside, Victoria Beckham



First, a simple question: Why does Blogger format images so strangely? This is a very awkward layout, isn't it?

Secondly, will you just look at that puppy? Couldn't you just pick her up and hug her and kiss her and talk really silly, squeaky baby talk to her? Because believe me, we do that all the time, but never so much as when we put these two outfits on her today.

The lower picture shows Zuzu in the same red Hello Kitty sweater, partnered with a really snazzy plaid schoolgirl skirt, accented with a red satin bow. She liked this outfit: you can tell because her tail went all blurry in the photo, she was wagging so hard.

The upper picture depicts her in a turquoise Limited Too hoodie and a little khaki kick-around skirt. Casual, playful and fun, this weekend wear is perfect for a furry girl on the go. I especially love the holes for her ears.




Because time is not much of an issue...

Aisling and I found out today -- totally by accident, of course -- that Zuzu can fit into the clothing made for the Build-a-Bear Workshop bears and bunnies that Aisling used to play with but had long since packed away.

Here she is modeling a Hello Kitty sweater in a nice, warm red. We also have plans to put a frilly tutu on her and maybe a little pair of jeans and a t-shirt with penguins on it.

You have to believe me when I say that I never thought I would be the kind of person who would dress dogs up in clothing. So far, this madness has been confined to sewing fleece jackets for Wimzie, because she's terribly, terribly old and gets chilled. But oh, now that we know that that box full of BABW clothes will fit the puppy, new vistas have been opened up to me.

I have totally lost it. I mean LOST. IT.

Menu Plan Monday


Thank HEAVEN for Laura and her menu planning idea! As I was making this week's menu plan last Friday, big snow was forecasted. I knew the grocery store would be a madhouse, but I thought, I ought to just get out there and buy the week's groceries and get it over with. Thanks to my menu plan, my shopping list was streamlined down to the last carton of eggs, and that included all the ingredients for the Super Bowl snacks I made, too.
As predicted, ALDI was packed to the rafters with frantic shoppers grabbing snack items, toilet paper, bread, milk and all the rest, but the girls and I sailed through with my list in twenty-eight minutes from start to finish, and that includes bagging our own groceries and loading them in the car.

Here's the link to Laura's site, I'm an Organizing Junkie. Here's her excellent menu-planning template, which I print out and put on a clipboard for easy access. And I have my own chart that follows my favorite grocery store's aisles, but Laura's printable grocery list template might prove to be useful to you as well.

Menu Plan for the week of February 8, 2010

Monday: Spicy Beef Quesadillas and corn casserole

Tuesday: Breakfast for Dinner! Scrambled eggs, sausage and potato puffs

Wednesday: meat loaf, mashed sweet potatoes and green beans

Thursday: Baked pork chops and stuffing

Friday: Grade School Chili with crackers and peanut butter sandwiches, vanilla sheet cake

A saintly victory

We stayed by the television until the very end last night -- as far as football goes, that was a pretty exciting game, although I do admit to sneaking away to watch an episode of Buffy with the girls -- and this morning it's only fitting to offer huge congratulations to the New Orleans Saints and their fans. New Orleans really deserves this victory, not only for doggedly making their way through to the playoffs, but also because this win meant so much: If there's ever a big city that deserved some happiness, it's New Orleans. I wish all the little cities and small towns who have suffered so much in the wake of Katrina had football teams to win the Super Bowl, too.

So while it was a little sad to see Patr--...I mean, PEYTON and the rest of the Colts leaving the field without the victory they'd hoped for, it was still a pretty positive time. It was nice seeing Drew Brees in front of the cameras, a smile lighting up his entire face as he warmly and humbly thanked the fans for sticking with them. And seeing him hold his baby son? Awwww.....you gotta love the sight of a man holding his baby.

Half-time, though? Wow. Did I ever call that one right. Someone needs to set an age limit on who can perform at the Super Bowl. The Rock Gods of Ages Past just need to get some nachos and a beer and enjoy the show from their lift-recliners. My husband, who appeared to be traumatized by the show, was, "Someone needs to make them stop. Now. Faster than now." And I got an email from a younger friend today that seemed to sum it all up:

"The Who. As in 'Who were those geezers?' right?"

I usually pay attention to the commercials, but this year, I seemed to be up and doing something at just about every single break. Heisman trophy-winner Tim Teabow's "celebrate life" commercial was one I did see and it was so tame, I wondered what on earth had made those pro-abortion groups and "women's" groups so angry. Because if I hadn't known beforehand what it was about, I wouldn't have known what it was about. It was nice, but hardly the strident anti-abortion message I was expecting to hear.

E-trade, the online investments and securities firm, tried to score again with yet another baby-as-a-financial-wizard commercial and that was really, really cute a couple of years ago -- I still can't even think the word 'shankopotamus' without smiling -- but isn't it maybe time to get a new idea? I saw a Bud Lite commercial about a husband butting in on his wife's book group so that he could snag a beer and it was silly. And I saw one Doritos commercial that made no sense whatsoever, but I could never eat Doritos again and still live a happy and fulfilled life with no dragon breath, so I'm probably not the best person to judge.

There's kind of a weird after-the-holidays feel to this cold Monday morning. Yesterday was a fun day, staying at home out of the snow and the wind, eating lots of festive snacks. The merriment seems to have dissipated completely, concurrent with the alarm going off at 6:30. Ugh.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl 44 - Colts and the Saints

Carrie Underwood is singing the national anthem as I type, and as usual, I am a teary, sniffling mess. Why can I not hear that song without being a complete dope? Aaaagh. At least we're not at a party this year; we were invited to Jeff and Julie's house, but we can't go because of the puppy. Zuzu is too young to go for so long without being let out to do her business.

Anyway, so it is Super Bowl night. I am really proud that the Colts are there, but I have to admit that I am usually completely unaware of sporting events of any kind. Basketball, football, competitive hair-brushing, skiing...it all just leaves me cold. And baseball, which is my husband's favorite sport? Baseball seriously makes me want to poke my own eyes out.

But it's always nice when the hometown team does well, isn't it? That Patrick Manning is such a nice boy. Ooops, coin toss! The official emblem came up heads and the Saints have the ball. I just asked my husband if this favors the Colts or the Saints and he said a mouthful of football jargon that I did not understand and then finished up by saying that he doesn't think it really matters. Although he'd prefer that the Colts have the ball at the beginning of the second half, which I assume is what's going to happen since the Saints won the toss? Whatever.

It's an absolutely beautiful evening in Miami. All kinds of camera flashing going off in the stadium. Some of the players look grimly determined, others look like they need a quick trip to the bathroom.

For this Super Bowl, I have to say that I'd be happy if the Colts won, but I'd also be happy if the Saints won. New Orleans has been through so much in these years since Hurricane Katrina and it seems to me that this would be a nice boost in morale for the whole city.

Whoa. My husband just told me that the Saints quarterback, Drew Brees, went to Purdue. I've been informed that we are diehard loyal I.U. fans here. Don't know if I can support the Saints in any way if I want to keep living here.

The Who is going to play at half time, which is just kind of sad. I mean, Roger and Pete are my parents' age, which seems.....weird. I do hope they're not going to sing "Teenage Wasteland," unless they dedicate it to their grandkids: their children are my age or slightly younger. Sadly, John and Keith are no longer with us, so I'm assuming they've hired new help for the bass guitar and the drums.

Am I being ageist? Not sure on that. I do know that back when I was in high school and taking guitar lessons every week, I had that famous poster of Pete Townshend on my bedroom wall with his fingers bloody from playing his guitar and the thought of him up there on stage, grey and balding, makes me feel a little ishy. And Roger Daltrey? He looks less like a rock god, with his undone shirt and his mop of long hair and more like our dearly loved Rupert Giles on Buffy, played with such perfection by Anthony Stewart Head. Maybe it's time to quit when you could be mistaken for a staid, tea-drinking member of the Watchers Council.

Commercials, commercials....the Tim Teabow commercial that pro-abortion advocates were throwing such a conniption fit about was just on and I'm, like, dudes. What was the problem with that? Then there was a really funny Doritos commercial that made Meelyn and my husband laugh, but I missed it. Hyundai seems to be trying to corner Toyota's market.

"Third and six," some announcer just said. Crowd cheering like crazy. I have no idea what "third and six" means and find myself unable to care much. Maybe it means I should get my third piece of chocolate sheet cake and eat it in six seconds flat?

Anything to support the team. Because I'm like that: Caring. Encouraging. Loyal. Willing to eat chocolate cake until it hurts.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

RECIPE: Ragù Americana (American-style meat sauce)

This recipe is the one I use all the time and often refer to here on InsomniMom. It is partly my mom's, who first mined it from the 1960 edition of Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. But it's also my friend Celia's, who lived in France and Italy for many years and Knows Things about cooking that I will probably never figure out, even if I sleep with Julia's books under my pillow for the rest of my life.

This is an easy sauce to make, makes the house smell wonderful and homey, and makes enough for two meals plus a couple of lunch portions for our family of four. It goes over any kind of pasta, although our pasta of choice is always thin whole-wheat spaghetti. You can also use half of the recipe in lasagna, and the other half in baked spaghetti or even maybe the Red Sauce and Rice casserole I've been working on (recipe coming, you lucky things!)

In Italy, "ragù" describes a red sauce made with meat, which is just what this is. I've also added the word "Americana" to the title because this is a sweet sauce; Americans tend to like a hit of sugar in their tomato-based sauces. Think of things like barbecue sauce and ketchup and you'll understand what I mean. If you want a sauce that is more authentically Italiano, just don't put the sugar in, although I'd still recommend a teaspoon or so to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.

This sauce is a super-sneaky way to add some vegetables into your kids' dinner. Process them a bunch to make them invisible, or just grate them if your peeps don't mind seeing carrots.

Ragù Americana

Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
1 pound sausage (we use spicy sausage, but Italian sausage is also very good)
2 cloves garlic, diced (or one teaspoon of garlic powder)
1 large onion, diced

1 large can tomato juice
2 small cans tomato sauce
2 small cans tomato paste

2 carrots, grated or puréed
2 celery stalks, ditto
1 cup spinach leaves, cut chiffonade or puréed
about ten fresh mushrooms, thinly slice or puréed

1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1 tablespoon salt
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 bay leaf

1 cup of hot water
1/4 cup red wine (optional)

Directions:

Brown the beef and the sausage in a large Dutch oven with the garlic and onion; drain and return to the stove. Over a medium heat, add all the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a slow simmer, stirring every twenty minutes or so. Allow to cook on stove for about two hours. Serve immediately over pasta. If there is sauce left over, allow to cool and then put in a refrigerator container. Store for up to one week.

If you'd like to prepare this in your slow-cooker, simply omit the cup of hot water. Brown the meat ahead of time and put everything in the cooker all at once; stir to combine and cook for four hours on low heat.

************

One thing I like to do is make up small snack-sized plastic bags of the herbs and other dry ingredients ahead of time. That way, when I'm preparing the sauce, all I have to do is empty out a pre-measured bag into my Dutch oven, even though I've made this so many times, I just measure everything out in my palm anyway.

If you don't want to add the fresh vegetables, you don't have to. The sauce is much richer and more complex in flavor if you do add them, though. I made this for years and no one knew that all those vegetables were in it. It was my little veggie secret.

This sauce freezes very well. If I intend to freeze it, I pour it carefully into gallon-sized freezer bags, remove as much of the air as possible from the bag, and then freeze it flat on a baking sheet. If you divide the sauce in half, it will fill two gallon-sized freezer bags about half full.

Naughty girl

This picture of Zuzu is a little blurry because this girl never stops moving. She is a whirl of motion, a bundle of puppy energy who has such an innocent joie de vivre, it's impossible to be mad at her for some of her more outrageous pranks.
This morning, for instance. For the past few days, a box of tissues has been my constant companion. Until about half an hour ago, that is, when I happened to place it on the coffee table. Which was right next to the ottoman. Which was conveniently pushed up to the couch. Making, as I'm sure you can envision, a handy bridge for a furry little darling to walk across, which she did. And then spent several feverish moments in silent stealth, plucking tissues from the box and then chewing them into confetti.
I walked into the living room with my cup of tea -- I'd been out in the kitchen happily stirring in some Splenda and just a touch of milk and thinking what an excellent morning this was for sitting on the couch and reading my book with the deep snow and the fretful wind outside while I was all snug and cozy inside -- and was suddenly puzzled because it looked like snow was strewn all over the carpet.
Then I saw the culprit, standing stock-still on the ottoman and looking at me innocently with half an unchewed tissue hanging out of her mouth. "Tissue? Oh! You mean this tissue? Ummm, well, it's a funny story how all these tissues got out of the box, really amusing. Hershey?"
Hershey just looked at me and then back at Zuzu. If a dog could ever be understood to say, "I SO DID NOT MAKE THIS MESS. SHE DID," it was that dog, right then.
"Zuzu...." I said accusingly. She gave me a sheepish look and then bolted off the ottoman, careening around the entire downstairs of the house, frantically chewing that tissue as she ran. I was in hot pursuit. When she finally had shredded the last tempting piece, she began to bark and hop around, bounding right over Wimzie's back as Wimzie stood sourly looking on.
Wimzie gave me an irritable glance. "See what happens when you refuse to even consider the idea of boarding school?" she asked me with her eyes. "GRRRRR!" she said to Zuzu.
Zuzu, unrepentant, bounced back up on the ottoman and went back to the tissue box. There were a few still left in there, after all. Might as well make a done deal of it!
"Not so fast," I said, seizing her and delighting in the smell of warm puppy. She snuggled under my chin, making these sweet little crooning sounds. I've never had a dog that did that before, nor one that so loved being cuddled. "I am going to have to be really severe with you about the mess you've made. So, um, bad girl."
Hershey and Wimzie traded a long look. Clearly, they don't feel she gets in trouble for anything.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

RECIPE: Chicken & Broccoli Casserole (oven version)

I wish I'd thought to take a picture of this delicious, down-home-cookin' casserole before it got finished up -- I purposely bake it in a 9x13 dish because it makes such yummy leftovers and we really enjoy having it for lunch -- but I didn't think of it until too late. I suppose I could take a picture of my empty baking dish as proof that we enjoyed it very much? No? Oh well.

This is pure, sentimental, 1950s, back-of-the-mayonnaise jar kitschy comfort food, first baked back in the days when Mom wore an apron over her dress while she cooked; I can't eat this without thinking about June Cleaver and Marian Cunningham. I don't want to think about the calories and fat content; all I know is that is tastes good, feeds everybody and makes enough for multiple meals, so here goes:

Chicken & Broccoli Casserole (oven version)

Ingredients:

2 cans cream of mushroom soup
8 oz Cheez-Whiz (or half a large jar, whichever is easiest)
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1 soup can of hot water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 1/2 cups Minute Rice, uncooked (either white or brown will work)

1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 can water chestnuts, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 bags frozen broccoli cuts, thawed (or fresh, if you'd like that better)
2 cups cooked and cubed chicken

2 cups crumbled Cheezit crackers or similar, stirred with 2 tablespoons melted butter (for topping)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13 casserole dish with non-stick spray. In the baking dish, stir together the mushroom soup, Cheez-Whiz, mayonnaise, water and lemon juice. Add the rice, onion, celery, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Add in the broccoli and chicken; stir to coat.

Place casserole dish in oven and bake for forty-five minutes or until bubbly. Top with crushed crackers and bake for ten more minutes. Remove from oven and serve immediately.